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Tending Tilted Woods

Tilted North Woods

Our woods grow on a steep hillside in The Ozarks. This north-of-the-house view of the hill is far less sharp than the south side where the angle is precipitous. I adore that the landscape is tilted rather than level, a curious mirror of my own off-kilter nature. Spirit is tangible here; the Divine is present.

Only a professional forester or extremely knowledgable lay person could determine how much of our woods are of original diversity though the likelihood is doubtful considering the thousands of years of habitation by indigenous humans (many of whom, we now know, did clear and burn forests to allow for greater ease in hunting and limited agriculture) and later by European colonizers.

For us, as new stewards to this special place, we hope to continue encouraging natural growth without imposing a manicured specter. After all, as Eliot Cowan says: “The most striking thing about this relationship [to plants and trees] is that we need them, but they don’t need us. We humans are utterly dependent on plants … In contrast, plant communities do just fine without people.” Where’s our gratitude?!

We have only to look at what humans have done to other landscapes to realize the lunacy of our arrogance. For instance, Great Britain has no natural forests left, although the extensive peat bogs are a testimony to previous vastness of woods; after human destruction, people learned how to coppice and pollard, in order to use wood but also steward the fragile stands of trees that were left. Sara Maitland writes of her journeys into the forests of Great Britain in From the Forest. Many woodland places in Europe met the same fate. Many islands — like Crete, for instance — were deforested by humans and their recovery has been difficult.

Here, in our wooded sanctuary, I often feel euphoric when breathing in the oxygen from the trees and plants, when gazing upon the lush green foliage, when listening to the wind rushing through the swaying canopies. Many people have lost this connection with and appreciation for nature and especially its wildness.

In Plant Spirit Medicine, Cowan writes:

“All things enjoy ecstatic union with nature. Life without ecstasy is not true life and not worth living. Without ecstasy, the soul becomes shriveled and perverted, the mind becomes corrupt, and the body suffers pain. … And to think that plants are mere dumb creatures that do not know ecstasy is ignorance or tragic, arrogant folly.”

I want ecstasy! Don’t you?

Mother Nature

Mother’s Day weekend was spent enjoying Mother Nature.

Seeds for wildflowers were scattered, Black-eyed Susan seeds were planted.

A tiny garden laid out, with hopes pinned on cucumber and zucchini seeds.

Sacrifice waTurtle Tortoise in the Grass 051517s made in the form of a tall tree whose trunk was damaging our roof.

Birds sang and flew around inspiring bright delight.

Leaves and grasses danced in the wind, dappling ground and deck with light and shadow.

Gutters relieved of decaying debris, releasing runnels of brown water down the spouts.

And this morning, a box turtle greeted me as I made my way to my Grounding Tree.

 

A Conscious Land

I go out in the morning and stand barefoot on the rocky earth, place my palms upon a massive tree trunk, close my eyes, and breathe in the essence of the land. In exchange, I feel the breath of the land touching my skin with molecules of leaves its passed through, whispering in my ears of its travels near and far, dancing into my nasal cavities the scents of distant memories. The rough bark of the aged tree is like an old farmer’s hands, having toiled and stood firm through the cycles of life, nearing the end of its own but yearning to share its wisdom if only someone would listen.

My family has lived in the Missouri Ozarks for over 150 years, not in this exact location where I am now, but an hour or so further north on flatter land. I’ve been gone from this landscape for more than 40 years, only recently returned. Most of my ancestors arrived from every early colony up and down the eastern seaboard, and traveled across a wide swath of the eastern United States; we also have drops of indigenous blood, married into along the way. So, while I have often felt strong links to various landscapes in my country, connections that go beyond “an aesthetic appreciation” (despite American Indian scholar Vine Deloria arguing against this ability in non-Indians to have a spiritual resonance with this land), I am enjoying the ease with which I am becoming reacquainted with the Ozarks and her unique landscape, and I have no doubt that my ancestors’ spirits are assisting me in this journey.IMG_0357

Some of these ancestors came from Ireland, Scotland, and even Wales; places where their own roots had become inseparable from those of the land and I can imagine the pain they must have felt in being “exiled” (as the Irish say about those who for economic or other reasons felt forced to leave their homeland in order to survive), their roots to the land cut after hundreds, even thousands of years. The writer Patricia Monaghan says, in her book The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit, that, there in the Ireland of her roots, “human consciousness has met the land’s consciousness,” and this is my own current path of American exploration. Not just to know the landscape as, for instance, this is a Black Oak, and this is a wild Grape Vine; or that some plants here are new arrivals and non-natives, while others are ancient offspring. Rather, how all sink their roots into the same soil to be nurtured. As do I, seeking to to know the land as part of my blood and bones and soul.

These “mystic encounters with the land” are difficult to describe; Monaghan says that she has “heard elusive inaudible music singing forth from land that is wild but nevertheless deeply known by humanity” and I know what she means. What might be our inaudible conversation with the conscious land? How might our healing be mutual?

To Die

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Maine Woods

I died in 2011. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s what happened. My death wasn’t physical, however, but rather psychological. This wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last. It was, however, one of the more tremendous transitions through which I journeyed, albeit somewhat unaware of its full context. I was often confused and overwhelmed, and, although I did realize that I was going through a change, and wrote about it at length through journaling and creative manuscripts, there remained pieces missing from my cognizance.

Initially upon reflection, I thought it was due entirely to the physicality of menopause, a threshold I reached relatively early. I attributed this to a decades old premonition; in my mid-twenties, I was convinced that I was to die at fifty years old. I thought through the years that this would be a physical death; this felt inexorable. As I began to approach that age, however, it seemed logical that the death I’d foreseen all those years ago was the bridge of moving through The Change. But it has been far more than that.

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Sonoran Desert, Tucson

In 2011, I had left the home I’d made (haven), the friends I’d bonded with (community), and the career I’d been slowly building from scratch (purpose) for nearly twenty years. My husband was desperate for a change in climate and job, so we moved from Maine to Tucson, Arizona. I naively thought I could simply pick up where I’d left off, re-create and re-discover what I’d left behind; it wouldn’t be easy, but I felt I could manage. That wasn’t to be and nothing seemed to be coming together. During my four years in the Sonoran Desert, I crashed and burned and tried to rise from the flames; I wrote two memoirs about those psychological traumas: Minoan Messages (about the pilgrimage I made to Crete) and Desert Fire (about my struggle to face the monster in my mind). Writing these books was very beneficial, but I still seemed to fall short in recovering peace and equilibrium.

I retreated further and further into myself, attempting to find outlets that would provide a sense of haven, community, and purpose, but my husband realized before I did that we needed to move; he recognized that while he couldn’t fix two parts of my loss, at least he could participate in finding us a place to live where we both might feel at ease. This led us to my birth-state of Missouri and a property and landscape that quickly felt like a haven, a true home. Roots and re-birth. One piece resolved.

Tree House Dream Sideways

Home in the Ozarks, Missouri

The other two pieces have been slower to emerge. Community is a slow, often awkward or even grueling process for someone like me who has a deeply introverted nature; it doesn’t manifest in the same way that it might for people who are extroverted. Another challenge is that I’m living in a part of the country where the majority of people have a completely different perspective on spirituality, politics, society, and culture than I do. I’ve been compelled to explore these antithetical views in depth, though that process nearly overwhelmed me at times. Nevertheless, I’m finally, after nearly two years, beginning to feel the presence and comfort of a loosely connected web of community.

The third piece is purpose. This aspect for me, historically, has broadly been about giving back, caregiving, and healing other beings (humans as well as animals). In the past, I took a direct route by working with friends in animal rescue, by creating a petsitting business, and by studying natural health care and transforming what I learned into a business that offered classes and consultations. I was writing books as well, another life-long interest of mine, but that was a sideline to my direct offerings. In Tucson, I was shown an indirect way to share healing and transformation: through writing.

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Copperhead

This reflection upon direct and indirect offerings is what has shone the light upon the death of one manifestation of purpose and the rebirth of another. I am not the same person I was six years ago; that self is gone, died. Do I want to continue trying to wear that “dead and useless skin“? Not really. Like the snake, I’m ready to shed my old skin.

My mid-life purpose has now shifted into using the experiences of my past and reflections in the present to offer healing-through-writing into the future. I realize that death will come again in a new guise, but for now, I’ve been reborn.

Celtic Flame

A new morning practice encourages me to wander into the patterns of Celtic women’s spirituality, to honor my ancestors and meet them at the hearth where we all come to join hearts and minds in a covenant of belonging. Blessings well up to keep me conscious of gifts received and reminders to share my abundance.

First thing in the morning, light the flame, a signal of conscious awareness; last thing at night, honor the dimming of glow in the house where shadows merge and reign upon our sanctuary, a blanket of dark protection. Here are the tethers of life, the wicks of gratitude and love; where once were coals upon a central fireplace, now a candle represents the resurrection off hearth-keeping as a sacred vocation, even when only an act of diminutive devotion.

IMG_0280Some of my ancestors came from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the English borderlands. Those who have studied their life-ways and myths or legends remind us that, “They can show us how to do ordinary things in a spirit of celebration that comes from a sense of being connected with the flow of humanity, the life energies.”

I wrote a while back about my personal and unique path to tending the hearth fire. My relationship to hearth and home is in continual transformation as I explore the mysteries of life. It is said that, “the household fire was more than a practical convenience … it was a reminder of the flame of life, of the need to rekindle basic energies every day of our lives, to keep in touch with our inner life force and avoid apathy and coldness in ourselves or towards others.” When I light my candle, this remembering is a portion of the context in which I see the flickering and feel it within myself.

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Quotes are from Power of Raven, Wisdom of Serpent: Celtic Women’s Spirituality by Norah Jones.

Vulnerability

Broken roots. Healing ground. Sacred space. ONE.

I wake with a peace permeating me, solace found in healing ground as if, all of a sudden…I’m fine. As if my body isn’t to be worried about, its healing is coming along well without my constant attention. I don’t need to fear because … I’ve landed, I’m home, I’m grounding in the blessed rocks and soil and humus of Life that surrounds me. The darkness is a gift to learn from; it is part of this universal experience we participate in. I find my breath coming easier, softer. My eyes, discerning, witnessing, don’t shy away. Neither do my ears from listening. I’m grateful for my senses as we embrace the world and witness our own evolution. My broken body heals. So does the universe. Brigid guides the way, Her light peeks into my cracks and illuminates the chips I harvest with compassion as part of me.

Ground, then move…bending. Among the trees, we are rooted, deeply embedded in Life as witness and participant in Love, no matter where on the planet we are, our earth that spins in and out of darkness and light.

I’m not worried about my recovery, or the recovery of the world; we will continue to grow, ground, move, bend, heal.

twinkle-ice-forest-13-jan-2017Vulnerability. Sanctuary doesn’t mean that nothing difficult will happen or that one is always in control; it is a place where we feel more able to cope when challenges do occur. A haven isn’t isolation but a place of deep connection. We are all vulnerable to Life’s Mystery.

One Hearth

Fireplace

What does it mean to be aligned with Hestia? To be a hearthkeeper? What is it like to designate oneself in the accepted ~ though often denigrated ~ role of “homemaker” when asked “what do you do”?

I tend to structure my days, creating a schedule so that I feel a sense of accomplishment. I’ve done this ever since retiring in 2003 from the 9-to-5 grind of office work. But I find myself more often this past year allowing a day or two mid-week, when Ron is working, to just go with the flow. My sadhana may extend itself into nearly three hours, and that is often the sign that the day needs to be open and permeable to intuitive flow and contemplative practices.

I realize upon reflection that I often allowed this non-structured flow in my single years as well. The years before I met Ron, but while I was still working in an office where a clock and structure dictated the day’s tasks. In those years, however, the flowing days were on the weekends…the solitary times.

What I find, from past and present both, is that truly necessary tasks still get done, maybe in a different order or in a unique way, but done. From cleaning and cooking to animal care and grocery shopping, and all the other mundane tasks, whether scheduled or not everything important eventually is taken care of.

Or sometimes the day is a slumber of presence flowing into each moment that encompasses subtle contemplation; I look around at the end of the day to see that nothing was accomplished, there are no outward signs of productivity. Yet this is fine, too.

I am blessed by the touch of Hestia, though I don’t always dwell in the traditional “homemaker” role. Especially these past several years. Jean Shinoda Bolen, in her book Goddesses in Everywoman, describes the introverted Hestia also as a “temple hearthkeeper” and I now resonate more strongly in this sub-archetypal direction. Familial caregiver energy, and the attention to keeping a tidy and properly-run home, is being shifted toward sacred sharing and extended periods of focus upon the Divine Feminine.

Yet my husband and I remain solid in our connection. Ron and I both refer to our home as our sanctuary. He enjoys our quiet, easy lifestyle, and appreciates the simple, loving energy that I bring into our home. I treasure his kindness and generosity that provide me with the opportunity to enjoy my innate nature.

I believe that the strong partnership I share with Ron, and the reason that our relationship is sweet and easy, is a direct result of Gaia’s presence and support. Gaia’s guidance ~ my own Divine essence ~ allowed me to be completely open and honest with Ron, from the moment we met, about my nature and what was important to me. And yet, I also know that Gaia would have continued leading me into deeper resonance with Her even if I had not met Ron. I was already on the Gaia Path prior to meeting my husband. We are blessed that we both honor one of my roles as hearth-keeper.

What is my current path?

One Hearth for Home and Temple